Some forty percent of leases are non-performing, depriving the Commission of billions of dollars and putting a strain on the entity.
This is according to Commissioner of the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission, (GL&SC) Trevor Benn.
Addressing media personnel at an end of year press conference yesterday, Benn revealed that the non-payment of land rent and non-occupation of public lands has been a burden on the Commission.
“When I arrived here, when the new board took over, we were hundreds of millions of dollars in the red and largely due to issues of that nature.
And by “in the red”, the Commissioner explained that “it is the amount of money owed to the land agency.”
“A lot more needs to be done.” He said that the Commission was able to make some headway in remedying the situation.
“Today, we have over $200 million, but this is after we would have expended on a number of projects across the country. I believe that every effort will be made to change the way we operate in dealing with potential lease holders, so we now have a more rigorous system of collecting our arrears,” he further added.
We cannot just see it in numbers because this includes a deficiency in equipment for many, many years, but in terms of liquid cash, we were close to over $200 million in the red,” he explained.
Further, the Commissioner reminded that GL&SC is a semi-autonomous agency that is required to make its own money.
Meanwhile, Benn said that the semi-autonomous agency is working “very closely” with the Special Organised Crime Unit of the Guyana Police Force and the Financial Intelligence Unit to screen land lease applicants, who conduct large cash transactions.
“We are following the anti-money laundering law in relation to large sums of money being paid over in cash, for example, by our prospective lease holders,” he said.
“We are on the look-out” despite the fact that “we are paper-based”.
Benn explained that the GL&SC is collaborating with relevant agencies to ensure that dirty money is not laundered.
Benn noted that so far no leases have been scrapped or applications blocked as a result of financial crimes.
“Since we have been here we have cancelled a number of leases, not necessarily for suspicious reasons; most of them is for non-beneficial occupation… not for anti-money laundering issues…We have not repossessed any land for anti-money laundering,” he said.
Also, the GL&SC said nothing could be done to withdraw leases that had been granted as a result of bribery and other corrupt practices to the staff.
“Once the process has been followed, even if it was an induced process, once the process has been followed and a lease was issued by the proper authority, it’s a lease at the end of the day.
Even if it was induced, we don’t have the benefit of knowing at what point that may have happened, if it happened,” he said.
Benn acknowledged that there has been a lot of talk about persons having paid unofficial sums for the processing of lease applications.
“Once the process, however, was followed and lease issued by the competent authority, it has to be respected,” he reiterated.
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